This web page is only an introduction and does not cover all the issues. For more detailed information on claiming asylum as a child, download the full fact sheet at the side and bottom of this page.
This page outlines the legal process for claiming asylum as a child in the UK. For further information, see our pages on local authority support for asylum-seeking children, UASC leave, and joining family through the Dublin Regulation.
What is asylum?
Asylum is the protection granted by a state to someone who has left their home country as a refugee. Someone in the UK who successful claims asylum in the UK is granted ‘refugee status’. This can sometimes also be referred to as being ‘granted asylum’.
Unaccompanied children who apply for asylum in the UK are sometimes referred to as ‘UASCs’, which stands for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Some children who apply for asylum are granted ‘UASC leave’. However, this form of leave is a misnomer, as a grant of it means that the child’s application for asylum in the UK has been rejected and they are no longer an asylum-seeker. For more information on this kind of leave see our UASC leave fact sheet.
What is the process of claiming asylum in the UK?
The asylum process is complicated and children can find the process daunting, confusing and overwhelming over the course of the process. It is important that a child is supported throughout the process and has legal representation to help them navigate the complex system.
Children, like anyone else claiming asylum in the UK, can claim in two ways – either at port of entry (such as an airport) or ‘in-country’ (essentially any time after entry into the UK. For children, claiming asylum will normally occur at the national intake unit in Croydon or in other immigration centres depending on the location of the child.
A child or young person will need a legal representative to assist them to make their case for asylum to the Home Office. It is recommended that a child finds a solicitor to represent them before applying for asylum, but if this is not possible then one should be found as soon as possible.
After the initial application has been made, the process for a child claiming asylum is essentially as follows:
- an initial ‘welfare interview’, at which the child is given a blank statement of evidence form
- the child and their solicitor fill out the statement of evidence form
- the substantive asylum interview
- the Home Office reaches a decision
- if the child’s asylum claim is rejected (including if they are granted UASC leave instead), the child has a right of appeal
When does a child need a lawyer?
A child or young person will need a legal representative to assist them to make their case for asylum to the Home Office. Under the UK Immigration Rules the Home Office is required to ensure that a child has legal representation and it is recommended that this be done before applying for asylum or are soon as possible. A legal representative should, along with having a thorough knowledge of asylum law and policy, have a special understanding of policies and procedures applying to separated children, and skills in communicating with children and young people.
The legal representative must be regulated to provide immigration advice by either the OISC or their registered body. Legal aid is available for advice and representation on asylum issues and a legal aid adviser should be sought in order to provide the child with representation. The legal aid adviser must be regulated by the IAAS to level 2 (senior caseworker) in order to work with children.
A legal representative will be also be funded to attend the welfare and substantive interviews with a child (a legal representative will not be funded to attend an interview with an adult).
Is the process different for children than it is for adults?
Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 contains a mandatory duty on the Home Office and others making immigration decisions to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK as they carry out their functions. The scope of the duty is broad, meaning that any government process within the UK should include a consideration of this duty.
All asylum and immigration policies and practices at every stage of the process must comply with the duty to treat a child’s best interests as a primary consideration. The duty applies to all Home Office functions and to all agencies working with children, irrespective of the child’s immigration status. The same duty applies to both separated children and children in families. The duty applies to how claims are considered and decisions are made, as well as to procedures and processes. For example, the Home Office would need to consider the child’s best interests when conducting interviews, providing accommodation and support, setting timescales, and considering evidence.
In practice, this means that the process for claiming asylum as a child is slightly different to the process for adults. Children must be interviewed by specially-trained interviewers, and children under the age of 12, or older children who lack capacity, may not be interviewed at all. Children’s asylum claims are also decided by specialist caseworkers within the Home Office. Children’s asylum claims should also be decided more quickly than the average – within 6 months – though in practice this does not always occur.
Download the full fact sheet